Vibram recently exhibited its Smart Concept Sole to give some insight as to the company's ideas for the future of sneaker technology. Along with a remote controlled LED lighting system that allows the soles to illuminate the ground ahead, Vibram anticipates the soles in future footwear to be embedded with sensors to warn the wearer of invisible environmental hazards.
Though Vibram showed the Smart Concept Sole at last week's Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah, the sole was inspired more by tactical needs for things like military operations, law enforcement and firefighting. It includes an integrated electronic board for controlling integrated hardware, along with a fob-sized remote control. A smartphone and app could also serve in place of the standalone remote.
The most universally useful application of the Smart Concept Sole is its lighting system. The integrated LEDs shine a diffuse array of light on the ground ahead, allowing the user to see where they're going in the dark while still maintaining a low profile. The LEDs have three brightness settings, and a flashing red LED tail light to increase wearer visibility for activities like running at night.
We've seen lighted shoes before, usually in the form of flashing novelty lights for kids, but a few years ago Teva released its Illum flip-flops that featured a mini-flashlight embedded built into the strap. However, some of the other features of Vibram's Concept Smart Sole take footwear capabilities further.
Vibram envisions the sole of the future being stocked with a variety of sensors to provide a warning system for users. A gas sensor would monitor for hazardous gases, something that could be useful in firefighting and law enforcement, while a proximity sensor would monitor for upcoming obstacles in scenarios such as dark, unfamiliar territory and smoke-filled buildings. Finally, a temperature sensor would warn of high temperature levels.
Vibram told us that the Smart Concept Sole is exactly that – a concept. Beyond tactical uses, Vibram believes that the sole could be useful for outdoor sports, such as night running and camping, and industrial safety applications. Vibram is primarily a rubber sole company and only offers a few select pairs of shoes, so if it were to pursue the technology, it would likely be at the request of a third-party shoe manufacturer. It did not have any partnerships to announce at last week's show.